DESTRUCTION OF RANMOOR CHURCH
| From a hydrant in Fulwood road he got a
pressure of water, and playing two jets, one on each side, succeeded in
checking the progress of the fire here. The operation was no easy one,
for the burning rafters shot out such rays of heat that despite the
cooling effect of the water it made little impression upon the walls,
which, being of limestone, were very susceptible to heat. Moreover, to
an ordinary observer, there appeared some danger of the tower
collapsing, and at one time the aspect was so threatening that Sir
Frederick Mappin felt it his duty to caution the firemen to be
careful in their work. However, Superintendent Pound feeling certain he
ran little risk made a bolder attempt to save the noble tower and
spire, one of the highest and best proportioned in Yorkshire.
The entrance porch looking towards the Ranmoor Inn was played upon until it was cool enough to be entered, after which the belfry door was broken open, and the steps, being luckily of stone, ascent was possible into the belfry. Superintendent Pound went aloft, and made an examination, discovering that the fire was creeping through, and would in a few minutes seriously jeopardise the tower. By dint of great effort a length of hose was carried up the steps into the heart of the spire, far above the roof, and from this vantage ground water was poured around, and with the outside stream proved sufficient to stay the fury of the flames in this direction.
Having secured the safety of the tower, the Superintendent and his men turned their attention to the vestry, which being cut off from the main building, was outside the circle of the main conflagration. Here again the fire brigade succeeded, for the vestry has suffered comparatively little structural damage. A couple of arched rafters at the west end of the church still remain in position, though charred and burnt, but with this exception, nothing withstood the heat of the flame. Even the ornamental stone work of the walls has been chipped and broken, and rendered of little value.
We have already spoken of the arrival of Mr. Tweedie and the churchwardens. Following them came a great number of influential citizens and inhabitants of the district. All the houses in the neighbourhood turned out their occupants, who stood gazing in awe at the thrilling scene before them. The Chief Constable was informed of the fire on his way to St. Mark's church, and altered his course to render efficient service where it was needed. Sir Frederick Mappin, too, whose name has already been mentioned, was early present, and amongst other influential gentlemen may be mentioned Mr. J. E. Bingham, Mr. Frank Hobson, Mr. James Dixon, Mr. George Howson, Mr. E. M. Gibbs, Mr. W. Lockwood, Mr. S. E. Howell, Mr. Wm. Laycock, Mr. J. Y. Cowlishaw, Mr. Samuel Laycock, Mr. J. W. Harrison, Mr Dransfield, Mr. Bradley Firth, Mr. Bernard Firth, Mr. Charles Jeffcock, Mr. C. H. Firth, and Mr. George Sharman. Until the arrival of the engines nothing could be done, and the spectators stood in hundreds, at one time in thousands, witnessing the destruction of a church of which Sheffielders have justly felt proud.
The minutes sped on slowly, and some complaint was heard of the tardy arrival of the fire brigade. These complaints were certainly not justifiable, for Superintendent Pound was present twenty minutes after receiving the call, which is capital time on a frosty road from the fire engine station. Inspector Toulson did all he could with his hose reel, and also during the day was of great service in superintending the police arrangements.
Leighton, the caretaker, on returning from calling the churchwardens, was thoughtful enough to make his way to the gas meter and turn the tap off. He was nearly choked by the smoke, but successfully carried out his intention, and, to make assurance doubly sure, locked the gas chamber behind him. After morning service at St Mark's and Fulwood most of the people forming the congregation visited Ranmoor and inspected the ruined edifice.
The interior of the church after the fire was piteous to behold. All that was left of the splendid open-timbered roof were a few charred rafters, which stretched like blackened skeletons of their former selves across the western end. They were not quite burnt away, the fragments perilously suspended from wall to wall, serving to indicate the bare outline of what had been. A scrap of glass in one of the western lights was all that was left. Above this remnant stretched a solitary bar, but in one of the other lights of the window nearest the tower, there were six; the stonework dividing the lights, as well as that crowning the windows, seemed as if it had been eaten out by the fire - probably it had peeled off under the intense heat, as paint peels off a signboard. The others were similarly damaged. In the chancel the two memorial windows could be picked out from the rest by the wire grating which stood the fire well.
Of the noble organ, stated to have cost £800, not a vestige remains; with it has perished a collection of music, the property of the honorary organist, Mr. T. B. Brittain, which money cannot replace. The beautiful pulpit, of Italian walnut with all its bronze enrichments, like the lectern, the Communion table, and lovely altar cloth, were mingled in one common pile of blackened rubbish. Here and there a figure in bronze was picked out of the pile; scraps of what might have been plate, burnt leaves of services, and remains of music sheets, bits of leather which had once been the binding of prayer books, were turned up by some searchers in the chancel; though the most solid of what was found seemed valuable only as relics of the great disaster.
Across the nave lay huge timbers, broken and blackened; beams, all but consumed, cracked under the feet, and from the walls hung gas pipes twisted and torn into all shapes. Underneath the western window, where the last of the rafters is dangling overhead, there are charred traces of the fine screen only recently given by Sir Frederick Thorpe Mappin. The stone tracery in some parts is in bright contrast to the wreck on the floor.
It was almost impossible to imagine that one was looking at the interior of Ranmoor Church, and that the miserable heaps of beams reduced to cinders, and mixed with fragments of stone, metal &c., were all that remained of the goodly pews, and their luxurious appointments, the beautiful prayer books, and the costly gifts with which the church had been enriched. There could not have been a wreck more thorough; not even a pew, or a part of one, remained to tell where the people sat. All the seats were buried under the debris from the roof, and were themselves consumed in the general fire.
Though all danger of the fire affecting the belfry tower was promptly averted, the men were kept at work playing upon the ruins in the interior. About three o'clock, by which time the crowd of spectators had greatly increased, the curiosity of the public overcame their prudence, and men and children found their way past the police and coolly inspected the scene under the shadow of the tower. Supt. Pound, rightly realising his responsibility, soon stopped this intrusion, much to the annoyance of several disappointed sight-seers. A little later two or three patches of stone, which had curled up like ribbons, fell from the walls, and the few who had protested against the order to retire protested no longer. Indeed, even at this time the ruins were emitting clouds of smoke; and now and again a spark of fire was visible. At 4.20 in a corner of the organ chamber, a gleam showed in the timber, but the hose was promptly turned upon it.
Shortly before this the Rev. A. G. Tweedie, Mr Hamer Chalmer and Mr Robert Colver, the churchwardens, with Mr Gibbs, met by appointment at the church. Mr Chambers, the builder, was also present. Though the heat which prevented an examination in the morning had subsided, it was impossible to make any satisfactory search. A party were digging in the chancel where the communion table was placed, and occasionally a remnant was turned up; but nothing of any consequence was rescued from the wreck in a state which admitted of being used. Even the bronze figures which enriched the pulpit were broken and twisted; and there is little hope when the wreckage is cleared, of anything being recovered in a condition which will permit of its being restored to its original place. Finding that little could be done in a general way of search - there are cartloads to be removed ere anything can be got at; if there is aught now worth the trouble - attention was turned to the organ chamber, where the fire was believed to have commenced. Here it was expected some light would be shown on the cause of the disaster, and the expectation was not falsified.
It should be explained that the furnace cellar is underneath the vestry, and the flue runs up, within the wall that divides the vestry from the organ chamber. On the organ side fire bricks are used. The thickness is nine inches, quite sufficient to prevent any communication of fire, that is supposing there is no defect anywhere. But in the present instance, there is a hole in the bricks at a height of forty feet from the ground, at a point where it is easy to conjecture the beam supporting the organ chamber roof would rest. The hole is a large one - the size of a brick placed through the wall lenghtwise (sic) - and it runs towards the flue.